The opening scenes of Clive Owen’s (Children of Men, Inside Man) latest movie Shadow Dancer, the story of a female IRA member turned MI5 informant, promises much more than the political thriller delivers and unfortunately the Hollywood A-Lister’s languid acting was chiefly to blame.
Set in 1993, MI5 handler Mac (Owen) looks both dazed and expressionless as he attempts to ‘turn’ active IRA member Colette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough) following her aborted attempt to plant a bomb on the London Underground.
Riseborough (Made in Dagenham, Never Let Me Go) does well in the lead role of the compromised IRA soldier. Threatened with prison and the loss of her son she agrees to feed information to the British government.
But all isn’t as it should be. Perplexingly the British intelligence services don’t seem overly protective of their new ward and Mac’s boss played convincingly by a very English Gillian Anderson (X Files, Great Expectations) appears to be hiding MI5’s true motivations and threatens to compromise Mac’s integrity and McVeigh’s safety.
Author Tom Bradby’s first screenplay is an adaptation of his own novel and unfortunately this is where the film’s problems begin. The ITV News Political Editor’s dialogue is concise, but so concise that characters are never fully developed, making it difficult to empathise with many of them.
David Wilmot (The Guard, King Arthur) as IRA enforcer Kevin Mulville is the exception. Mulville’s a feared man whose menacing presence is felt and along with Aidan Gillen’s (The Dark Knight Rises, The Wire) violent Republican leader Gerry, adds a touch of charisma into a film that lacks colour.
Set in the midst of peace talks of the 90s, Shadow Dancer shows the fractures within the Republican movement and the ongoing standoffs with the authorities, vividly displayed at a ‘soldier’s’ funeral on the streets of Belfast.
Famed documentary director James Marsh’s (Project Nim, Man on Wire) stylisation of 90s Belfast shows a bland and poverty stricken landscape focusing on the ordinariness of everyday life. But his subtle direction saps the dynamism and tension out of the many of the scenes.
Funded by the Irish Film Board, BFI and the BBC, Shadow Dancer is an interesting insight into the workings of the IRA and the intelligence services during the ‘Troubles’. But the intriguing plot requires a lot more pace and, bar the opening and final scenes, lacks energy and drama.
With Owen’s inability to inject anything above a lacklustre performance, a sense of indifference permeates the whole movie. Only Brid Brennan and Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, True Grit) portrayal of McVeigh’s Ma and protective brother Connor manage to restore a little humanity into this fictional tale of loyalty and choice.
Evoking memories of dreaded secondary school history lessons, Shadow Dancer is a film predominantly void of emotion and is a tedious take on an important period in British and Irish history, and just like school I found myself wanting to be anywhere else.
Shadow Dancer is out now at FACT